Leah and Davey have been drinking in the pub all night. It’s raining.
Leah is happy to sit on a couple of rum and cokes. After their initial taste she doesn’t feel the need to get anymore smashed. Davey however, has a much greater capacity for the smack and goes back for another hit. Plus he is swallowing grog like lolly water. He likes Jack Daniels and coke.
It’s closing time. The rain has been beating down on the tin roof of this northern N.S.W. pub for 48 hours. There are about 10 people left and half of them are on the nod. As they mumble and shuffle to their cars, Davey says, “I’ll drive”.
“Don’t be stupid”, Leah says, “You’re too smashed”.
“Fuck off matey, it’s only five bloody ks”.
Leah sighs. He’s 10 years her junior and she’s sensitive about their age difference. She doesn’t want to act like an older woman, like his mother. Leah doesn’t like to be reminded of her age.
“O.K. darlin, just take it easy, eh?”
The road hugs the river. It’s a warm, moonless night. Giant camphor laurels hang their rain soaked branches low over the old EH Holden station wagon as it carries the couple to their destination. She loves the sound of the rain and winds her window down to hear it, and besides, it helps with the windscreen, as a demister wasn’t included as an accessory when this car was built. He keeps his window up.
They drive slowly. It’s hard to see. As long as they take it easy they won’t have any trouble.
Leah sits on the left; the same side as the paddocks and bush. She looks out into the darkness and waits for the dripping, swaying branches to brush the car. She sees the dark motionless figures of the Friesian cattle and wonders, ‘do those guys like this weather?’
Curling like a snake
She loves the rain.
Davey sits on the right, the same side as the river.
Well, more a tributary than a river. It starts high in the hills of Mullumbimby and is fed by tiny trickles and streams as it slowly winds its way down, curling like a snake through banana farms, multiple occupancies and rainforest. By the time it gets to the bottom of the valley it straightens out, picks up speed and becomes the fatter and deeper thing that pours itself out at Brunswick Heads.
The road out of town is flat and long and runs parallel to the river along the valley floor. There is no curling or twisting, just a straight simple run of four to five ks. Davey is a new boyfriend and is staying with Leah. To get to her place they have to cross the stream.
When they turn off the road to cross the old wooden bridge it is covered with fast flowing water.
Davey has no idea about a creek in flood
Davey has no idea about a creek in flood, he moved to Mullumbimby a year ago from Brisbane. He doesn’t even slow down, just keeps on going. She doesn’t even finish her sentence, “Jesus, Davey, it’s too fuckin’….”. The car doesn’t even make it halfway across before it starts to slew sideways.
The river has them.
Her window is open, she starts to climb out. She is a small woman, quite petite; it has always been a part of her attractiveness. At this moment she has never been gladder of her stature. The car is tipping, dipping into the angry, black river. Leah screams, “Get out. Get out,” and is gone.
A branch hits her in the face. Suddenly stone cold sober and with lightening reflexes, she grabs hold. She claws her way up the giant laurel standing on the edge of the flooded stream and finds a perch high above the swollen madness. It’s dark, the rain is pelting down and she is alive.
My friend Shauna has just finished a late shift at the local hospital. She lives on the same multiple occupancy as Leah. Shauna is pretty sure she’ll be staying in town that night but drives out anyway. It’s a short distance and she wants to be certain. Her husband and three sons are out there.
Shauna stops the car at the turn-off to the bridge and walks to the edge of the water.
Standing in the middle of the rainy darkness she watches and listens. The usually sedate stream is now a turbulent, vehement body of water crashing and thundering down from the hills.
Wild nature excites Shauna and she loves the sound of it.
She hears something other than the noise of the creek, but it doesn’t register at first. From a long way away a voice comes to her, “Help, help me. Help me; I’m stuck in a tree. Help, help me”. She follows the noise with her ears. With a torch from the boot she searches it out until she sees the tiny white arm waving at her.
She frantically waves her torch
“Jesus,” she mutters, “I don’t believe it”.
Shauna starts shouting at the arm, “Don’t worry, don’t worry, you’ll be alright. I’ll get help. I’ll get you down. I’ll get you down. Just stay there.”
It’s the early eighties, before mobiles. Shauna doesn’t want to leave that little girl voice but she has no choice. She searches the road for headlights. At the last possible second before getting into the car she sees them coming from town. Running out onto the middle of the road she frantically waves her torch and screams at the lights, “Stop, stop, for Chrisakes please stop”.
It’s the local dairy farmer and his wife. They drive back to town at high speed. The State Emergency Services and Police are on the scene in 15 minutes. All the time Shauna keeps talking, shouting to Leah, “Who are you? What’s your name?”
“Leah, it’s Leah”
“Jesus, it’s Leah, little Leah”.
“God”, thinks Shauna, “where’s Davey?”
Leah is rescued, wrapped up in warm blankets and taken into town to the hospital. Shauna travels back alone and wakes her friends. They stay up till dawn drinking tea.
It stops raining.
Slowly the river subsides, and on the third day the car is revealed about a kilometre downstream wedged under a giant fig with Davey still in it. According to the autopsy report he hit his head on the dashboard and is unconscious before he drowns.
Shauna travels home night after night, always stopping at the old bridge. She gets out and listens for Davey. Night after night, she tells me, she hears him crying out until one night she hears him no more. He is free, she says, he is gone from there.
I see Leah walking around town a few weeks later. She looks thinner, smaller, older …